Burundi-Rwanda trade resumes, but old problems stay

Monday September 09 2019

A street in Bujumbura, Burundi. Imports from Burundi—mainly foodstuffs—declined sharply to below the $1 million mark, and represent only 0.8 per cent of Rwanda’s total imports from the region. FILE PHOTO | NMG


Formal trade between Kigali and Bujumbura is slowly picking up after a political spat in Burundi that led to violence disrupted the movement of goods and people between the two countries four years ago.

Exports from Rwanda to Burundi rose to $5.2 million in the first quarter of this year from $1.1 million over the same period in 2018, according to the Rwanda Institute of Statistics. However, the revenue generated is beefed up by re-exports, mainly fuel, as a number of Rwandan manufacturers including cement, beverages and packed foods are yet to resume exports over the fear of violence.

Imports from Burundi — mainly foodstuffs — declined sharply to below the $1 million mark, and represent only 0.8 per cent of Rwanda’s total imports from the region.

Informal trade — especially foodstuffs — remains heavily restricted following a directive in 2017 by Bujumbura ordering Burundians to stop trading with “the enemy.”

Residents of border towns in both countries have felt the impact the most. There is little activity at the two main border posts at Akanyaru and Nemba, which once blossomed before the 2015 violence. However, cross-border movement of people is largely unhampered on either side. Burundian officials still block non-passport holders who reside within border communities from crossing into Rwanda. Cross-border transporters also stop at the border points as they are not authorised to operate inside Burundi.

Entries at the Akanyaru border rose slightly to more than 110,000 people in 2018, from over 100,000 in 2017. At the Nemba border, entries rose to 54,000 from 48,000 people, according to statistics by the Rwandan Directorate-General of Immigration and Emigration.


In December last year, President Nkurunziza accused Rwanda of harbouring “bad intentions,” but Rwanda maintains that its neighbour is looking for a scapegoat for its internal political wrangles.

Burundi accused Kigali training rebels and of masterminding a failed coup, a charge Kigali denied. Rwanda has also accused Burundi of sheltering the FDLR rebels who are accused of committing the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

But early this year Burundian officials said relations should improve “progressively.”